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Crisis Prevention, Trauma and Disaster Information: Training, Supports and Materials


Kaylene Scholl Henderson MA, BCCLC

Author, Trainer, Board Certified Christian Life Coach, consultant

Article:  Emotional and Spiritual Care in Disaster


                                              Emotional and Spiritual Care in Disaster

                                                      Kaylene Scholl Henderson

                                                             Liberty University 




            Disasters from war, nation against nation, famines, earthquakes, pestilence,

torture for acknowledging Jesus as the Christ, hatred, and murder are referred to “the

beginning of sorrows” (v. 8) in the book of Matthew chapter 24 of the Bible.

            The church of America has been a bystander witness through other mediums

of such disasters for decades and centuries, hiding under the flag of religious

freedoms.  A freedom which is losing independence and acceptance from the

government while many in the church are unaware, sitting like the frogs in a kettle

of water over a flame.  The senses immune from the reality of the spiritual war

raging for the soul of mankind. This immunity could be a result of sitting on the

fence of the world’s tactics and lure or from the numb self-preservation living in a

home of chaos, danger, disaster and grief. Either way, people are looking for help, or at the very least hope.  Many of these people are approaching the church hiding in shame, with a load that is too hard to bear. The pain of what life has become in the twenty-first century has left a nation of people with emotional and

spiritual wounds that need healing to find a new normal, one that is strong enough

to share with others the hope and healing they have gone through.

            The time of sorrows is pressing down upon the nations. Sad to say, the church and community is still baffled on the role the church could facilitate. With the separation of church and state, the local church has not kept abreast of policy and protocol for safety and collaboration with community –based social

services and resources to meet the mental, physical, and emotional supports.  This

disconnect has left a breech in comprehensive treatment for the whole person.  The

church has lack of resources for her hurting members and the community cannot

meet the spiritual component that 9 out-of 10 people search for when trying to cope with fear, trauma and disaster.  In order for an individual to heal, all components are needed.  The community services recognize their need for the churches help.  The church is being called up to take her place.  Will she, (the church) accept the invitation without compromising the character of Christ?  During this invitation window the church must utilize the time to define disaster, train their troops and prepare for  the scope, intensity and duration needed to

implement care in reaching the hurt and dying mass called humanity.

 Emotional & spiritual care in disaster                                 

Disaster breaks down the normal/base line level of function reaching the depth

of human existence. The core of man plummets below physical and cognitive

need to the secret places of the very emotional (soul) and spiritual (spirit)

experiences. The level of care exhibited during the initial aftermath of crisis and

disaster may play a significant role in long-term or on-going traumatic responses.  Disciples of Jesus Christ have been commissioned to care, being all things to all people, (I Corinthians 9:22 KJV) yet, without compromising the character of Christ. Relationship and trust is built by genuine

care for the primary life needs of food, shelter and safety.  Living a mature life of faith in action and deed is a precursor to gaining the right and privilege of spiritual care while sharing religious verbiage, experience and testimony as a result of invitation or acknowledgement of the person in disaster. (Ellers. CCCT 806. n.d.)

           Stories of those who suffer continue to express that the worst enemy in

the time of imminent crisis need is the well-meaning person who does not have all the facts.  According to Cisney, (n.d.) “clergy that are not trained to deal with trauma do more harm than good. Good intention is not enough.”  Mental health providers are not versed in dealing with the ‘need of

presence’ or the time and personal care in relationship building without a need of diagnosing. A time of crisis is about ‘being with’ not “walking through” (Ellers, CCCT 805 n.d.) In other words behaviors and reactions during the time of trauma and disaster are not necessarily mental illness but the

body’s way of dealing with the overload of stimulation, hormone reactions and

mental processing.  If during the critical incident the person has the opportunity

to have a crisis counselor to guide them through the natural processes mental

illness may be avoided.  If a person is not able to come to a place of healing with a new- normal in life to live in a state of growth from the incident, than a mental health professional may be needed to process through the trauma events for the client to find meaning.

            Scripture encourages those who have suffered and grown through pain

and grief to take that healing freedom to those who are in the moment of suffering. Those who survive and have a peace and meaning to their personal suffering experience along with the training and understanding of brain, bodily functions and reactions during a time of crisis and disaster, including the preparation and guidance of  disaster relief processes, are the best option for disaster relief care.  The level of spiritual care needed can only come from those who have the personal relationship and hope of Christ.  In order for this to happen there needs to be an understanding of personal theology of suffering, congregational plan of preparation for pre-incidence disasters and fostering resiliency in the pastor and the


Personal theology of suffering.

Throughout scriptures in the Bible man is riddled with pain and suffering. In the

beginning this suffering was a result of disobedience when satan tricked man

knowing it would be a breaking away from fellowship with the creator of the

universe, God. (Genesis 3 KJV) In the situation of Job, (Job 2 KJV) suffering

was a part of satan’s tactics to get Job to deny and turn from a relationship with

God. Joseph (Genesis 37 KJV) endured great suffering from family violence and then false accusations from those in authority over him when Joseph chose to follow the principles of God. Terrorism and the effects of disasters on the world have kept the Jewish people and followers of Christ s

uffering in forms of crisis and disaster since before the times of Queen Esther.

Mary and Martha suffered the loss of their beloved brother in death due to the

natural order of a physical life living in a fallen mortal state. (John 11 KJV) 

These are all some examples of crisis, trauma and disaster where a family,

people group or individual experienced a time of loss and death in a relationship.  Life as they had once known, no longer existed.

The ultimate day of suffering happened on a hill called Golgotha.  This day was

a result of all disobedience of mankind who walk away from a relationship of

love and fellowship with God.  A Day when satan hoped to deceive mankind

once and for all of Jesus’ status as King of kings and Lord of lords, God of

heaven and earth. A day when family and friends would deny Him and the

masses would falsely accuse Him of ungodly character causing those in

authority to condemn Him. Terrorism at its deepest, cruelest, most sadistic form

of a martyrs’ death, natural disaster of earthquakes and darkness, followers face a conflict and crisis of their faith, a mother’s inconsolable grief, a father who turned His face away in rejection. Physical death. Jesus. Dead. Buried, yet, alive again with hope and victory over the sting of death and

destruction. (I Corinthians 15:55 KJV) Through these experiences of suffering

and disaster there was a time for lamenting, recognizing good surpasses evil

resulting in growth and a search or deepening relationship with God capturing



 Lamentations is the act of expressing sorrow or pain, to mourn aloud, to cry out

in grief and wailing tone that is active, harsh and full of conflict. (Ellers, n.d. CCCT805) The timeless war for the soul and spirit of mankind has continued to rage.   Through the choice to lean on God’s strength to guide and give peace that passes understanding, a person’s heart and mind will be

kept safe in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7 KJV) when destruction is set to kill, rob and

destroy. (John 10:10 KJV)

Good Surpasses Evil

Good surpasses evil for those who purpose to see, learn and experiences the

grace of God during a time of crisis, trauma or disaster while increasing and

validating their faith.  It is when faith has its perfect work that joy can be restored

to the person who is walking in the midst of tragedy. James, (1:2 KJV) informs

people to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” for these trials help to

build faith, strengthen character and enjoy life in a relationship with God.  This

joy is evidenced through characteristics of contentment, well-adapted, reflective

pleasure rejoicing in a God of redemption communing in relationship with


A search for relationship

A wrestling continues in the soul and spirit of mankind for a relationship with a

greater being.  The search for this being and expectations of this god is surfaced to greater heights when humans experience trials, trauma and disaster. The level and form of care during this time of crisis in a person’s life may prescribe the outcome: Grief that is consoled, good recognized above

evil with strength and joy flowing from a reciprocal relationship pointing to God;

or, uncontrollable grief, evil snuffing out any positive life, fear, powerlessness

and an abased mind leaving its victim in un relentless turmoil. (II Tim 1:7 KJV, Romans 1) “Human suffering has been described as a significant and universal mystery of human existence.” (Milton 2013) Yet, those who walk in the resurrection victory of Christ Jesus have been given insight into this

mystery.(Matt 13:11, Luke 8;10)  The understanding and compassionate factor to exhibit love to those who are hurting will compel the follower of Christ to bring that same level of understanding and truth to the one searching, otherwise in vain.  One may ask, “How then, does someone know

how to help?”  The answer, prepare “that you may have an answer for the hope

that lies within you.” (I Peter 3:15 KJV)

Congregational plan of preparation for pre-incidence disasters.

            Daily news broadcasts remind us of the reality of pending disaster and

destruction. The scope ranges from in-home domestic violence, community

mass shootings, national disasters and world-wide terror from militant groups

competing for power.  In the face of trauma people are confronted with a crisis of belief. They question the reality of an all-loving God and look for answers to establish a sense of meaning from the local place of worship. Jesus has required His disciples to follow after His example of loving

the masses, even to the point of giving up one’s own rights, and laying down life

even to the point of death. (John 15:13, I John 3:16 KJV) The general

expectation is that the church will be a safe place to obtain healing and comfort,

yet, in the wake of trauma and disaster, crisis workers are experiencing that

‘well-meaning people’ with a heart to serve causes more damage than good.

(Cisney n.d video)

            The prophet Habakkuk (1:1-17 KJV) was lamenting over the conditions

of destruction in his land, complaining to God about the violence, bitterness and

lack of law.  God responded back (Habakkuk 2:2-4 KJV) instructing the people to write the plan or vision down so the people could constantly be reminded of the plan, would be prepared to implement the plan, and carry forth the directives at the appointed time. According to Biblical example the local church is to: present and train the people of the identified need, Write down a strategic plan and implement the directives at the appointed time.

Present and train people of the identified need.   

            Daily people can watch television or other technology media and listen to stories of war, natural disasters, famine, violence and other atrocities as warned by Biblical prophets thousands of years ago. (Mathew 24:6-11 KJV) Statistics record that 70-90% of today’s population have witnessed

a crime, been exposed to crisis, or been a victim of a traumatic incident or

disaster. (Schupp n.d.) Yet, many sit by with the mentality of ‘Not in my back yard.’  The reality of need here has not occurred to them if a large scale disaster is not staring them in the face. Some others suffer so deep in their own need they cannot see they’re not alone in suffering. Any form of

crisis or trauma in a person’s life will require attention and care to mental health

regardless if physical help is needed or not.

            Crisis happens in an individual’s life when a critical incident causes the

individual to lack functioning in their regular ability to cope. The support of a

caring person can help facilitate the opportunity to learn and grow from the

incident; however, the person who is not able to regain their base-line functioning

prior to the incident have a high risk of developing emotional and mental health

dis functions. (Kanel 2007) A trauma experience occurs when an individual is

subjected to actual or perceived threat of life, theirs or witness of another. (Briere & Scott 2015)

            To present an identifiable need would require an understanding of crisis

and trauma in one’s own environment, natural disaster possibilities, cultural

understandings of a community’s national identity, religious group identity along

with cultural and ethnic beliefs about various situations and scenario’s that make

up the community in need of disaster help. For a place of worship to be prepared

to care for those suffering from a crisis, trauma, natural disaster, or a form of

terrorism, specialized training, resource inventory and care teams would need to

be established, presented and evaluated before launching.

            The churches’ mandate is to go out into all the world and share the good

news of the gospel to those who are hurting. (Mark 16:15 KJV)  Even if a church

is not actively seeking to bring in the hurting they will come looking for meaning

and answers to questions in the midst of the turmoil in their life.  Whether they

stay or not will have a high probability of their feelings of safety within the walls.

Four out-of ten people are reported to search out clergy during a time of crisis

and disaster than to consider a person in the mental health profession.

(Koenig 2006) Mental health has the potential to be misunderstood and

overlooked therefore causing the church to dismiss or cause more damage in

religious lingo or practices.

            Research is giving the church opportunity to have a greater

understanding in Biblical concepts of pain and suffering of the human body and

mind. One such example is the article by Davis (1982) describing the suffering

of Christ on the cross. There is no excuse for the Church of Christ to claim

ignorance on the ways of suffering and Christ-like care that is holistic in mind,

body and spirit. Specialized training from a Biblical perspective is available in

abundance though some time and effort will be required to “test all things”

(I Thessalonians 5:21) ensuring that the information lines up with the word of

God.  To exhibit full care to the person suffering the mind cannot be ignored. 

It is easy to see and tend to physical needs of shelter, food and possibly safety

and a word of encouragement may lift the spirit of a person, but the mind

determines a judgement of the incident and creates a vow for self-preservation

in future occurrences. It is the mind that holds the key to accept life or follow

destruction. A church that sees the wisdom in understanding the mental

functioning’s during the time of crisis and trauma will have far lasting impact in

witnessing the healing of the soul.

         Other specialized training that includes safety risk-management would

encompass the church grounds and property along with other areas of church

activities.  Training’s conducted to teach the congregation how to evaluate safety needs of potential scenario’s that could influence or penetrate the church function or activity will help prepare and be secured to prevent harm from violence or disaster.  The community at-large is filled with training

resources to prepare for first-aid or other medical emergency needs, personal

safety classes, fire safety, and violent attacks on the church or the parishioners.

            To care for trauma or disaster that is being experienced by one that sits

on the church pew week after week or a person that may be encountering a

natural disaster along with a prior/current secondary trauma, additional trainings

are available that could include but are not limited to: lay counselor training,

domestic violence, adoption/foster-care supports, death and dying, drug &

alcohol addictions, suicide prevention and sexual assault.

            I Corinthians teaches that each individual in a church body has a unique

gift, skill and calling. Living life together helps to build strong team work that

naturally will have leaders and followers in each area of need.  Respecting these

gifts and operating in the roles established supplies trainers, administrators and

hands-on workers to prepare for a task that may be set before them.

              A crisis or disaster will present a variety of needs that will not announce

themselves before time. Identifying categories and items of potential resources along

with an inventory will save precious time and possibly lives at the initial strike of a

incident.  The main resource is people.  Conducting a gifts, talents, hobbies and skills

inventory of the church members can help identify strong areas of help and weak areas

needing outside supports to meet any ‘surge’ need. (The capacity to resource and meet

the needs presented, (Everly 2010 video)) This information will assist in establishing

strong ‘care teams’ to serve a specific venue of need.

         Care teams and individual assignments are best utilized when the person

is directed to meet a need that is within their scope of training, experience,

specific skills and personality for the specific disaster.  A Disaster Command

Officer (Person assigned to organize this ministry in the local congregation) who

has knowledge of specific persons trained and prepared to serve along with the

skills inventory will have a better understanding in assigning and managing work

teams. A congregation who learns how and practices the care of their own

parishioners in times of trauma and disaster needs will be more apt to meet

needs when they arise in the community.

            Leaders who recognize and find resources to help those in their own

sanctuary walk through grieving to healing will also have stronger groups of

people who are spiritually mature, competent in skills, understanding safety and

stress load within the role they are assigned to help at the time of greater

disaster needs or church wide disaster/crisis. The disaster plan will guide each

leader through goals and objectives of their support teams in the hopes of

orderly care that ministers healing and hope to the masses. (Koenig 2006)

            One of the most crucial needs during a disaster is to be present and an

encouragement to those who are suffering. The willingness to pitch-in and meet

physical needs will bring a level of hope in the midst of a community swimming

in the depths of destruction and despair.

In the video, The nature of disaster deployment: Team coordination and care,

Cisney (n.d) identified a list of characteristics that are critical for those assigned

to a team.  This list consists of: 1. Empathy- Cooperation, 2. Open

communication-Drive to improve, 3. Self-Awareness- Initiative aware of own

emotional difficult areas triggers, 4. Self-confidence- flexibility, not

immobilized by the situation, able to work on own without hand-held by

coordinator. 5. Organizational awareness-bonding across cultural, religion areas

with those a team member may work with on deployment.

Write down a strategic plan

            As mentioned prior, Habakkuk was instructed of the Lord to write down

the vision and strategy to meet the needs of destruction head-on. A congregation

that is committed to prepare for impending disaster and then meet the challenge

of care need clear vision and direction of plan needs.  This group can have a

fuller understanding of the task when they have been able to identify the scope,

intensity and duration probabilities with varying crisis and disaster scenarios.

            The team needs to identify what their primary goal (what they want to do)

and objective (why they want to do) is.  Once this is written plainly the group can

then brainstorm to set a strategy (how) to perform the tasks needed to meet the

goals and objective. Each component of the strategy is to be listed with the steps

to complete that component. A list of needs and resources (financial, personal,

material, community) is to be compiled for each individual component listing the

lead person, draft budget/supplies and any barriers that may need to be

overcome to complete the task. The lead person is encouraged to meet

periodically with the crisis team to keep the vision alive and to practice and

review policy and procedure.


            For implementation of the strategic plan protocol will need to be

established in policy and procedures to ensure that consistency is followed and

terminology is universal and understandable. Safety is to be the motivating factor

in conducting any service to meet physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. Any form of disaster will include community agencies and authorities.  These could include but are not limited to: The Red Cross, National Guard –City crisis management services, local and state police, Fire

and Rescue Members, or other specialized organization. The crisis team

members will need to be willing to serve beside and abide by any policy and

procedures by the government emergency responders. Establishing a

collaborative effort with these community members will help in building a

relationship of mutual trust and respect prior to a disaster assignment.  


Fostering resiliency in the pastor and the congregation.

 To introduce new ideas of ministry for growth and development in caring for the

crisis and disaster needs of the church and local community, the identification of

need will hopefully provoke a plan of action to help people see the importance of

returning to a place of recovery and growth in healing after a traumatic

experience. As individuals are reminded of their own trials and sufferings the

hope is to ignite a passion in giving testimony of God’s grace in their experience

to compel them to reach out with the hope that they themselves walk in. (II Corinthians 1:4 KJV)  Matthew 25 gives a glimpse of goals and objectives in ministering to the inner needs of one that is suffering.

“Give not only bread but the word of God.  Give to the thirty not only water,

but truth and love. Clothe the naked not only with garments of cloth, but with

dignity and esteem. Take in the sick of heart not only to shelter with brick and

stone, but into hearts that understand, love and protect. Visit the sick in heart as

well as body, care for the dying of soul as well as the body. Matt 25 revised” (Scholl 1989)

        In a video facilitated by Floyd, (n.d.) the comment allowed for mental

pictures to see the local church as a refuge from the cares and dangers of the

world experience. To think of this sanctuary, a place of safety as a potential war

zone for the cause of Christ is unthinkable without prompting. Yet, the danger is

fast approaching our church doors.  In order for the church to remain a refuge the

members will need to take up arms in training as the offending side being vigilant

so as not to be taken off guard when trouble threatens to rush through the doors.

With preparation the church will be able to stand firm and strong in ministering

Christ’s love and peace when disaster strikes the community versus lying flat in

numb disbelief that an internal attack actually happened. Jesus has warned the

church of Christ that the local followers will be persecuted because of the

connection to Christ. (John 15:20-21 KJV)

In the past decade America has seen a rise of violence against the church even

during times of meeting in worship. (Floyd n.d.) To hold with the mandate of

ministering to the hurting, care for the dying in spirit and meet the needs of the

community, the church is being called to prepare for new levels of experience. It

is time to; understand aspects of disaster, establish preventative measures

against violent disasters within the church and establish policy and procedure to

facilitate an incident command system and implement directives at the appointed



        Disaster, as described by The Red Cross is, “An event of such destructive

magnitude and forces as to dislocate, injure or kill people, separate family

members, and damage or destroy homes.” (Roberts & Ashley 2015 pg. xv) 

People long for the church to be a safe and healing community. The safety of the

church congregation is the responsibility of its leaders to train, prepare and

implement policy and procedure to accomplish the task of safety across

experiential venues.  What this looks like will be determined by environmental

needs, individual needs of the congregation, cultural and ethical considerations

according to the group or religious conviction and the resources that are within

the church family and its community collaborative efforts.

         In this world there will be trouble.  Finding meaning in crisis and disaster

drives many people to the local church or place of worship looking for answers. 

The diverse familiar incidences are coming into the church in one fashion or

another.  The church has a moral and biblical responsibility to care for the hurting

and be a refuge of strength in the midst of disaster.  The church can accomplish

this mandate through training, preparation and relying on God’s strength in the

time of weakness and vulnerability. (II Corinthians 12: 10 KJV)


“Preparedness (is) to previously think out and practice how to act on any

accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.” (Lancaster 2008)



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